Killing Joke

killing joke singles collection The Singles Collection (1979-2012) by Killing Joke (Spinefarm Records)

Listening to Killing Joke continues to thrill since I first heard them in the 80’s.  Their music displayed a creativity and worldview that drew my teenage interest, as did their driving energy and distinct sound.  Early on, the band favored a gritty, dystopian vibe, yet they also included a heavy dub influence, making them urban and exotic in equal measure.

Hearing their music with fresh ears, songs like Nervous System, War Dance, Requiem and Follow The Leaders contain dynamics and an appealing groove that, along with Jaz Coleman’s raspy vocals, made Killing Joke quite accessible.  The boiling undercurrent of bassist Youth and drummer Paul Ferguson’s rhythm section add to the dread of Geordie Walker’s grinding guitar leads.  Yet there is always catharsis as heard in the bizarre Chop Chop and the metallic Empire Song.  The band even lighten up for almost positive Let’s All Go (To the Fire Dances).  All of Geordie’s unique and intelligent guitar work led up to the slinky and dangerous leads on Eighties, where the band craft a classic pumping combination of commentary and butt-shaking groove.  And yes, this is the guitar that Nirvana (perhaps unintentionally?) lifted for Come As You Are.  From here, Killing Joke went for a slower, more atmospheric approach, appealing to the black-garbed masses known as goths.  Love Like Blood, Adorations and Sanity, placing the synthesizers and drum machines higher in the mix, toning down the anger for a subtler sound.

Disc Two begins with The Beautiful Dead from Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions, an unofficial single, originally released as a 7″ flexi disc. The song shows the evolution of the band, employing electronic elements to the slow beat, the tension rising, ever rising thanks to Walker’s scathing guitars and Coleman’s storytelling vocals.  The noise and energy returns with a hacking cough on Money Is Not Our God, also from Extremities.  Martin Atkin’s (PiL) 4/4 beat backs a thick miasma Paul Raven’s bass and Walker’s six string swells and slashes as Coleman belts out some guttural chants about taking for ourselves the air and beaches, putting aside the drive to material wealth and enjoy the world.  Youth returns to the fold for the Pandemonium album.  The bassist and producer fills up the Killing Joke sound with crunching percussion, electronic squelches, repetitive bass thrusts, Walker’s guitar slashes and Coleman’s throaty rants as heard on Exorcism.  Coleman’s interest in Arabic culture and music adds a trancelike feel to the anthemic Millenium and the title track is bass guitar throb, metal guitar and psychedelic strings and percussion.  Jana shows Killing Joke’s lighter side with jangly percussion, strings and wistful vocals from Coleman.  The title track to Democracy is the only single from that album, which reflects Coleman’s Native Indian touches, acoustic guitar and somewhat lighter sound.

After a long break, Killing Joke reconvened in 1993 with their second self-titled album, perhaps signifying a fresh start.  Both Raven and Youth play bass, with Youth producing and the biggest surprise to Killing Joke fans: former Nirvana drummer and present Foo Fighters leader playing drums throughout the album.  The one single here, Seeing Red, is KJ streamlined and catchy, yet brutal and full of good-natured metallic noise from Walker and Grohl, the drummer channeling the spirit of John Bonham. Raven’s ominous bass rumble is prominent throughout tracks from Hosannas From the Basement of Hell, as heard on the title track, ably backing the metal verses and melodic choruses.  Hosannas marked the last album with Paul Raven, who passed away in late 2009.  Absolute Dissent from 2010 carries his spirit as heard on the uplifting yet gritty In Excelsis and the churning Fresh Fevers From the Skies.  Absolute Dissent also marked the return of all four original members, with Big Paul Ferguson behind the drum kit with KJ for the first time in over 20 years.  The songs featured on the Singles Collection balance nostalgia (the very dancey European Super State and the dubby Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove) with present day KJ youthful energy (In Excelsis, Fresh Fever).  Rounding out the second disc are two songs from MMXII, again with the original lineup.  In Cythera is a sequel of sorts to Jana, with a positive vibe, full of uplift.  Corporate Elect proves that Coleman still has much to say about the world, in this case screaming his disgust of the connection between big business and politics, with a strident beat and brutal guitars heightening the anger.

In limited release, the three CD version of the Singles Collection includes the two discs of singles and a third disc of previously unreleased tracks from their later albums, remixes and songs from movie soundtracks. Our Last Goodbye is from the Free The West Memphis 3 Soundtrack.  It begins with a man reciting statistics that tell us that the United States executes more minors for crimes than any other country.  What follows is an effective blend of tribal drums, synthesizers and crunchy guitars.  We’re also treated to three songs from the Absolute Dissent sessions, as well as Four Stations of the Sun (studio version), a long lost classic.  These session songs prove that even the Killing Joke songs that didn’t make the cut are still breathtaking.  Finishing up the disc is the Aotearea Mix of Pandemonium, putting even more trancelike emphasis on the original.

While Killing Joke’s The Singles Collection (1979-2012) is by no means definitive, it is a brilliant introduction for new fans and a little something for the completist followers.  Killing Joke is one of those bands that sound like no other yet have influenced so many.  Get the physical three disc version of the Collection before they sell out.  The two disc version will be available in larger numbers.  See them on tour this Spring.

Killing Joke’s Official Site


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